My 11-year-old boy thinks his mum is no longer cool. He thinks the clothes I pick up for him are ugly and my jokes are lame. He is giving me glimpses of what lies ahead when he become a full-blown teen.
The first sign that the winds of change were blowing came when my son begged to change his school bag.
The one he had was “too boxy, too fat, too big… too standard”, he griped. I knew what his real complaint was.
The bag, which he has been using since Primary 1, is deemed too childish now that he’s in Primary 5.
My husband and I had spent good money on the sturdy backpack with spinal support and we weren’t about to buy a new one just to burnish his street cred.
So he rummaged through the cabinets at home and dug out an old Nike haversack. Even with its peeling swoosh logo and fraying seams, he found it a far more appealing option.
Then, not long after that, he asked for a hoodie. He was outgrowing the only jacket he had, so I agreed to check out the latest deals at a few online stores.
I shortlisted some designs and told him to pick one, thinking it would be the usual fuss-free affair.
He scrolled through the items in my virtual carts and shook his head. “No, I want a hoodie.”
“Why does it have to be a hoodie?” I asked. “It’s fine as long as the jacket is nice and serves its purpose.”
“But those you chose aren’t even nice,” he countered.
And it had to be a hoodie because, you know, “everyone has one and it looks cool”.
Now 11, he has never cared much about what he puts on, much less what others wear.
In turn, I’ve come to take for granted the carte blanche to furnish his wardrobe.
Yet it seems my firstborn has snapped out of his innocent stupor overnight and discovered that “mum” and “cool” are mutually exclusive terms.
We narrowed down the search to hooded jackets and, still, he vetoed all my picks with disgusted cries of “Eee!”.
Then I clicked on a colour-block design and he finally unknit his brow.
“This is nice,” I said, pointing to one of the options with charcoal grey sleeves and a hood stitched onto a contrasting heather grey top.
He made a face and placed the cursor instead on a version in a reverse colour combination.
“This one,” he announced in a voice that brooked no discussion. “It’s like Moon Knight.”
“Moon night? What a romantic way to describe the colour scheme,” I said, impressed.
The reply was quick and the tone incredulous. “No! K-N-I-G-H-T. Moon Knight, the Marvel superhero.”
I responded with an eye roll but made a mental note to Google the guy.
My ignorance apparently knows no bounds. A few days later, I saw a slew of WhatsApp messages on his phone from a chat group and one of them jumped out at me: “Can someone play PUBG now?”
“What’s PUBG?” I asked my son.
He rattled off something that I couldn’t catch, forcing him to repeat it twice before my brain could register the words: PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds.
I know there’s no space between the first two words only because I Googled it. PUBG, in case you are a social-trend laggard like me, is an “online multi-player battle royale game”.
Of course, I then had to find out what a “battle royale game” is (“a survival game with last-man-standing gameplay”, according to Wikipedia).
Was this why we stopped chatting with our parents when we hit our teens? Our poor folks had no Internet then to help them decode our lingo and wedge a foot into our mystifying adolescent world.
Even with the aid of Google, I’m often playing catch-up as the overlapping areas of our lives start to shrink, now that my son is fast growing up.
Increasingly, I find myself asking what’s this or that when he cares to fill me in on his day. If I’m lucky, he will explain quickly and move on with the story.
If not, I get the arched eyebrows and the aforementioned incredulous tone: “You don’t know? Everyone knows this.”
For now, my tween still hugs me unreservedly, updates me on his circle of friends and genuinely seems to like me. There is no open defiance, cold indifference or galling arrogance. Not yet.
He might chafe at certain rules – his phone, a second-hand unit with no data plan, must be left in my room unless we need to arrange pickup times on the go – but has been quite good at keeping them.
Still, I can already get a good glimpse of what lies ahead when he becomes a full-blown teen. You know, the age when parents can be an embarrassing liability simply by breathing.
My son now finds the clothes I pick for him ugly, the jokes I share lame. And when his friends are around, I know he wishes that I am neither seen nor heard.
He’s straining at the leash, hungry for freedom and independence. We’ve been pulling him back as we are not sure he’s ready. Hence the tug of war as we all fumble along by trial and error.
His wish of going to the cinema on his own to catch a movie with his friends has yet to be granted. But I’ve let him walk alone in the rain to and from a recent school event when it was held near our place.
I get it. This is the age when they start forging their own identity and there is nothing more mortifying than being seen as an appendage of their parents. But knowing this doesn’t make letting go easier.
Friends with teenage kids have given me ample warning. Y’s anecdote about her son, for instance, both tickled and alarmed me.
The 15-year-old succeeded in keeping their interaction to the bare minimum when he went on an eight-day school trip to Japan recently, much to her chagrin.
“I asked him five to six questions via WhatsApp. He texted one ‘yes’,” Y recounted.
“I said, ‘Yes to which question?’ He said, ‘All’.”
She had once enjoyed an affectionate bond with her son like I now do with mine. My heart twinged just thinking about how soon my child might start finding me a nuisance.
Then he gave me fresh hope the other night when he asked to read with me.
Our roles are reversed at bedtime story sessions these days – he picks the books and the interesting sections he wants to share with me. I’m content just to have that bonding time with him.
His choice that night was a hardcover character guide to the Marvel Comics universe.
“I’ll show you Moon Knight,” he said, flipping quickly to the page.
I was secretly pleased. He might, in Y’s words, “zombie-face me all the time” one day as a sullen teen. But for now, he still wants me to be a part of his world.
I’m going to make myself at home there for as long as I can.
A version of this article appeared in The Straits Times.